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The best albums of 2009 . . . so far

Various Nigeria 70: the Definitive Story of 1970s Funky Lagos (Strut)
Responding to the US pop making its way there in the late Sixties, West Africa exploded in a blissful polyrhythmic riot of horn-driven, electric guitar-filled, keyboard-laden music. This is the Nigerian chapter, remastered.

Rolando Villazón Handel (Deutsche Grammophon)
The Mexican tenor bravely forsakes his usual Romantic repertoire and heads further back in time, ably supported by the Gabrieli Players and the conductor Paul McCreesh.

Belbury Poly From an Ancient Star (Ghost Box)
Influenced by public information broadcasts, library music and Sixties psychedelia, the synth player Jim Jupp spins an eerie web of sounds. One of the strangest yet most alluring electronica albums of late.

Lily Allen It’s Not Me, It’s You (Regal/Parlophone)
The west London-born singer may be maturing, but not too much – “Fuck You” is as crude as they come; elsewhere, she is subtle. And with sparkly electronic pop replacing the reggae-lite, the tunes are still big and sunny.

Toddla T Skanky Skanky (Columbia)
A young bedroom DJ from Sheffield offers his bleep-driven take on Jamaican dancehall. What one might term a “party” album.

L’Arpeggiata/Christina Pluhar Monteverdi: Teatro d’Amore (Virgin Classics)
Was Claudio a jazzman? You begin to wonder when you hear Baroque musicians essaying a walking bassline, in a startling but convincing reimagining of Monteverdi’s secular music.

Antony and the Johnsons The Crying Light (Rough Trade)
With the Mercury winner retaining his bluesy, mournful wail, Antony Hegarty abandons the cabaret atmosphere of his earlier albums in favour of sparse yet pretty, piano-laden songs.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs It’s Blitz! (Interscope/Polydor)
The New York trio (pictured right) refine their electropunk sound to thrilling and moving effect. Karen O’s voice, ecstatic on “Zero”, fragile on “Runaway”, defiant on “Heads Will Roll”, continues to astonish.

Kronos Quartet Floodplain (Nonesuch)
While the Bush administration was busy demonising foreign cultures, the American new music ensemble Kronos was devising this celebration of Middle Eastern, Balkan and African musical traditions, recast for string quartet to truly joyous effect.

Wilco Wilco (the album) (Nonesuch)
An alt-country band from Chicago was always an unlikely proposition – and that’s how Wilco have played it. Over the years, they’ve outgrown the overt sonic adventuring and deepened their American roots, as imposing and heartening as a giant sequoia.

Animal Collective Merriweather Post Pavilion (Domino)
The Maryland quartet’s third album is a sensational collision of Beach Boys harmonies, swirling soundscapes and uplifting electropop.

Noisettes Wild Young Hearts (Mercury)
Eyebrows were raised at this poppy departure from the Noisettes’ acclaimed, offbeat debut. But with its hints of Queen and the Supremes, the album is like a drop of rain on a parched tongue in summer.

Oumou Sangaré Seya (World Circuit)
The Malian singer-songwriter Sangaré first emerged in 1989 as a young upstart who challenged the role of women in her society, as well as western preconceptions about “world” music. Now she has produced an album of real quality to match her spirit.

Sunn O))) Monoliths and Dimensions (Southern Lord)
This pair of black-robed heavy metallers use guitar feedback, mixed with orchestral arrangements, to produce work that hovers between avant-garde composition and primal noise. They promise nothing less than to reconfigure the way you think about music.

This article first appeared in the 15 June 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Tragedy!